It’s National Walk to School month! Even though there are much warmer months for yourself and your little ones to venture into the great outdoors, October welcomes Autumn with its wide array of new colours and textures. It is one of my favourite seasons – crisp mornings, radiant sunsets and a (fingers crossed) lack of snow!
Walking anywhere with your child is a great way of spending some quality time with each other. So leave the car keys at home, wrap up warm and start or end the school day with a great adventure! In this blog, I’m going to give you some useful tips on how to get the most out of your walk by helping develop your youngster’s speech, language and communication skills at the same time. I’ll cover the areas of:
Attention and listening
Attention and listening
As you may have read in my previous blog, attention and listening skills are the foundation to a solid language development.
“Listening is one of the most important of all the skills that children need if they are to learn from their environment (the world around them)” Law & Elias, 1969
Tips to develop attention and listening whilst walking:
Listen - during the walk, as your child to listen carefully and tell you what they can hear. You can create checklists of sounds you may come across - just so they know what to listen out for. For example birds, transport, people, wind etc.
Describe - Describe sounds that the children can hear. For example if they say “brummm, bruum” say “cars driving on the road go brummm, bruuum”. If they say “whoooo”, say “the wind blowing goes whoooo”. This gives the noises context.
Record - Record some of the walk on your phone and replay it when you get home. Ask your child to tell you the noises that they can hear and for bonus point if they can identify where they were location wise when the noises were being made.
The best way of introducing new vocabulary is, you guessed it, by naming lots of different things. In lots of different ways. And then repeating the word. Lots.
By this I mean using a multi-sensory approach. For example if you were trying to teach your child the word “leaf” then you may produce a toy version. In time you should also provide your child with the real object, a photo of an apple, a drawing of an apple, different coloured apples etc…. This helps solidify their understanding of an object and aids their word recall.
Tips to develop language whilst walking:
As I mentioned above, name what you can see! Back it up with Makaton signs or take photographs that you can discuss after school.
Play games such as “I spy” or “what am I?”
Describe what the children can see and hear using adjectives e.g “the leaves are crunchy”, “that police car was driving very fast”.
Play “I walked outside and saw….”. Add on an extra item each time that the child and yourself has to remember. This is a great way of developing auditory memory skills.
Don’t worry too much if your little one’s speech isn’t perfect; most children’s speech sounds aren’t in place until they are seven. However there is no harm in taking every opportunity to support your children’s speech sound development.
Tips to develop speech whilst walking:
Try not to directly correct your child’s speech. If they use an incorrect sound, repeat back what they have said and model the correct production, e.g “It’s a tat”, “yes, you can see a cat!”.
If your child produces a sound correctly, give them specific praise so they know exactly what they have done right, e.g “you said the ‘c’ sound then!! Amazing”.
Play rhyming games to develop phonological awareness e.g “can you think of something that rhymes with tree?”
Clap out syllables in long words e.g “la-dy-bird"
Play the alphabet game – how many outside things can you think of that begins with a…b…c…etc.
If your child has been given a target sound to work on by their Speech and Language Therapist then try to find things on your walk that start with or contain that sound.
For many parents, the thought of walking to school with your child can be a daunting one due to the busy roads and limited danger awareness of our little ones. In order to help with this preparing your child before you leave the house can be invaluable.
Tips on how to help:
Remember your child may only be understanding 4-5 words so keep sentences short and use visual support where possible.
Give your child time to process they are going to be walking to school rather than surprising them with it – put it on the calendar or on their visual timetable if they have one.
Use social stories/ conversational comic strips to help your child relate to what you are saying to them. There are some great examples of how to write one on this website
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the fresh air whilst developing your child’s communication skills.